If I were heading to the NHL playoffs like the Anaheim Ducks are, I’d be using the last few games of the season to send some messages. What would they be? That we’re a tough team that won’t be pushed around. That we have a plan to counter whatever you throw at us. That our “system,” the favorite word of people who can’t, usually, actually define it, works, and that we stick to it.
With Vancouver in town for a 7pm go on Friday night, Anaheim sent some messages all right. Most weren’t what they should have been.
The first was the right one. “We score fast.” And they did that with just 48 seconds gone, Josh Manson from Silfverberg and Cogliano. The play happened with the goalie down and the crease a mass of bodies. Finally Manson picked it up, moved left to right, and put it over a swimming Jacob Markstrom, who waved his arms in a futile attempt for a miracle save. He later said of giving up one so early, “It’s just nice to know there are fifty-nine minutes of hockey to play. I’d rather have them score there than the 1-0 goal with one minute left. It’s a sixty-minute game, and you just have to forget about it. There’s going to be more shots.” Sure were. Like a total of 36 for the Ducks, to 28 for Vancouver.
The next several messages by the Ducks were entirely wrong. The first of those? “We play no defense.” The Ducks kind of just pond-hockeyed it for the rest of period one. They were outshot just by one, but it was the no-structure hockey that was so shocking. There wasn’t much intensity, no speed. Guys seemed to glide back the bench to end shifts. Later several would say things akin to Nate Thompson’s proclamation: “We were good in spurts, but not good for the whole 60 minutes.”
But they did get into some scrappy moments, mostly due to cheap shots. In fact, that happened twice. Perry took the feet out from under a Vancouver player and drove him into the boards. Kesler hacked the back of the goalie’s legs. Both got two for their trouble.
McGinn also put a cheapshot on Alex Biega, taking him into the boards on a check (not the cheap part) but using his knee to the back of Biega’s leg. This is defined in the rules as a “slew foot,” but it was not called. What was the message here? That we play chippy, undisciplined hockey.
And perhaps unintentionally, that when we get an easy early goal, we don’t mind just fooling around, because it’s all going to work out OK in the end. Only it’s not, when the playoffs start and a much more qualified hockey team than the Canucks lands at John Wayne and ends up at the Ponda. And it didn’t, in the end, Friday night either.
Period two saw Vancouver come out with a storm and score at 4:22. They didn’t stop, carrying their flurries all the way until the end. They got 13 shots in the period, to Anaheim’s eight. And the best word to describe what they did was “swarming.” Anaheim had no answer. Well, correct that. They probably had one. They just didn’t bother to use it. Josh Manson: “We had spurts of the way we wanted to play, but consistency is the key word.” And that they did not exhibit.
In between periods there must have been some words, because the style of play on the home team’s part turned entirely, and they came out in P3 with yet another message. This one: that when we want to, we can play some dangerous hockey.
In the first 1:22, when the line of Perry, Getzlaf, and McGinn was on the ice, they had several near misses. On one, a slapper came from Vatanen, and Bo Horvat dove right in front of it, face first. He blocked it and popped up seemingly not badly damaged. Perry was high-sticked in front of the net shortly after that, no penalty. The Getzlaf made a beautiful deke to bring the puck over the blueline on a chance and threw a blind, perfectly accurate backhand pass to McGinn, who shot wide.
Getzlaf was all over the ice. He took a wicked slapshot from the point—pasted one, as we used to say—and goalie Markstrom stretched out in the splits and snagged it with his trapper.
Kesler also got a chance there, putting a rebound up and off the post. Getzlaf was active right after, picking up a loose puck and whirling around with a wrist shot. That line dominated, again, and launched another shot that might have gone in but that it hit something and flew over the net. They didn’t score, but someone else did.
So here’s another good message: we have depth scoring. This appeared when Chris Wagner charged to the net and Manson got there right after him for a rebound. Garbutt came in late just in case, poking his stick under the goalie’s legs, though the puck was already in the net. After the game, Coach Boudreau was to say, “He played well. He played well. He might have been our best forward tonight,” of Wagner.
Now that’s a lot to say given that Getzlaf was everywhere on the ice and registered a team-high 5 shots. Boudreau would later add of the line of Garbutt, Thompson, and Wagner, “I think it was because they were playing well [that they got so many minutes]. When you have to shorten the bench, you look at who’s playing the best, and those guys were pretty good.” He said also that Wagner, “Took the body, had a lot of energy, played strong. He did a lot of good things out there.” Of the goal, he said, “It was all him taking it to the net.”
On that goal, by the way, Coach Desjardins of Vancouver challenged it for goalie interference, but he might as well not have wasted his timeout. If there was interference, it was on Garbutt way after the puck was buried.
The shots were 26-25 for Anaheim, and it looked like all message-sending was over for the night. Then Vancouver scored another one. It was from the deep right corner down almost to the goal line. Hamhuis launched a shot that somehow went by a Ducks player. He must have screened Gibson, who also had Jannik Hansen waving past him. I thought Hansen got a touch, but they called it for Hamhuis.
Then the Canucks did it again. Just two-plus minutes later, Etem put them ahead what turned out for good by scoring on a slapshot by Biega. The puck came through a crowd, touched two or three people as it did, and was redirected-shot into the left side of the net by the former Duck. If you’re counting, that makes it 3-2, Vancouver.
Etem was happy about his tally after the game, but philosophical about his time in Anaheim too. “I had a lot of good times in this building. A lot of the guys over there are buddies. It’s just nice to get one in this, my former arena, as well.” He had friends and family in the arena, which he said he always had when he played for the home team.
His depiction of the way the Canucks came out hard in P2 was, “I think when we were on them our gap was a lot better. When we were up on the play. That team over there, they play with a lot of speed, especially when they come out of the D-zone on the rush. We stayed on them. Sent two guys. Kept our gap.”
But he was also gracious in the win. When asked whether he took any pleasure in slowing down their division title, Etem said, “You know, I [laughs], it’s been a rough stretch for us, so every win definitely feels special for us, so we’re going to try to keep going.”
IH asked Hansen that same question, and he said, “We don’t look at this. For right now, scoreboard watching stopped for us a while ago. Then it turned to focus inwards and what we can do to be successful on the small things. We want to make sure we’re executing our systems. We don’t want to get blown out. We want to compete. We want to see smiles on guy’s faces after games, and there’s not a lot of smiling when you’re losing.”
Their goalie added, “It’s been a tough year, and right now we just want to stick together as a team. We want to play our hearts out the last couple of games. We have nothing to lose. We have a good structure, and . . . guys are playing hard.”
But if all was happy in the Vancouver room, it was very testy on the other side of the aisle. Bruce Boudreau, always polite and willing to talk about a game, was more harried than usual, rushed. He sighed at the end of his comments. He was not happy. And no wonder. Here are some of his thoughts: “Well, you take something away from every game, I hope. I mean, so I mean, it’s, you know, at this time of year, you just don’t pick it up and throw it away. It’s a game we should have had. We should have won, had two points. But you need 20 guys playing, and we didn’t have 20 going.”
He later said, “We didn’t play a 60-minute game. We haven’t played a 60-minute game in a while. We’d better, our next two opponents, I mean, two out of, yeah, are pretty difficult. We’ll get a real test on Sunday (Dallas).” When asked if that were needed, he said, “We’ll soon see. It will either be an eye-opener, or we’ll rise to the occasion. One of the two.”
So it would seem that the final message delivered was the most powerful, though it wasn’t for the other team, but for the home squad: time to play some better hockey, fellows. Playoffs are right around the corner.
The Ducks have an entire floor of the local hospital reserved, so many guys are hurt or sick. Here’s the list: Perron (shoulder), Despres (concussion), Andersen (concussion), Rakell (appendix), Bieksa (upper body), Lindholm (flu), and to make it worse, Pirri was hurt and didn’t return. Boudreau would not elaborate on him other than to say “right now, it’s just day-to-day upper body injury, and that’s how we’re looking at it.”
Oh, and Vatanen is just back from injury, while Stewart is still sporting a clear mask after a broken jaw suffered a long while ago. Didn’t stop him from going in to mix it up when someone leveled a teammate, though.
Read Facing Wayne Gretzky please. It’s my newest book.